Also see: Mexican Revolution
1. Insurgency and Independence (18101821).
The Insurgency began with Hidalgo's rebellion in the Bajío region, north of Mexico City, following a coup d'état by Peninsular Spaniards against the Viceroy's offer of access to high office to Creoles. General attacks on property by Insurgent forces and massacre at Guanajuato (September 1810) provoked an upper class backlash reuniting Creoles and Peninsulars.
January 1811: Hidalgo's forces routed, and Hidalgo executed after capture in July. Morelos resumes the struggle in the South, reorganizing the movement militarily and giving it a more coherent political and social programme. New areas join the Insurgency: examples are the Hot Country zones of Michoacán and Guerrero, the Sierra Gorda, Tepic (the movement led by Manuel Lozada), and the communities around Lake Chapala in Jalisco. But after Morelos's own capture and death in 1815, and defeat of Napoleonic forces in Spain, movement loses momentum, and many of insurgent leaders accept amnesty in 1816: by 1820, only Guerrero continues to sustain armed insurrection. Situation transformed by liberal coup in Spain in January 1820, which places Ecclesiastical Hierarchy in Mexico on side of Independence. Independence movement now becomes a conservative reaction to Spanish liberalism.
1821. Formal Independence from Spain. Iturbide's Plan de Iguala leads to Mexican Independence, Iturbide subsequently attempting to make himself a monarch. Central American Federal Republic formed, under the initial control of liberals, whereas Conservatives are dominant in Mexico.
1823. The provinces of the Captaincy General of Guatemala resist incorporation into the Mexican "empire" of Iturbide, though Chiapas becomes part of Mexico.
2. Caudillo Politics and the Liberal Reform (18211876).
Independent Mexico has 44 governments in the first 33 years of the country's existence.
1831. Guerrero leads a new revolt in the South: the insurrection is seen as a "class war" by contemporary observers. Is defeated and executed.
1832. Santa Anna revolts against government of Bustamante and becomes President for the first time in 1833.
1845-1848. American Invasions. Major uprising of Maya Indians in the Yucatan: "The War of the Castes" (begins 1847). The threat of social revolution unites Liberals and Conservatives, Federalists and Centralists. Santa Anna eventually forced to sign Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, conceding half of Mexico's national territory to the USA, and this disaster brings a Liberal government to power.
1853. After the Maya revolt and other social disturbances are suppressed, conservatives mount a new series of military revolts, and restore Santa Anna to power. Santa Anna assumes quasi-monarchical powers and sells southern Arizona to the USA (the "Gadsden Purchase").
1854. Liberal revolution against Santa Anna launched in the South, based on programme known as the "Plan de Ayutla". Santa Anna exiled for the last time in August 1855.
1856. Beginning of the liberal "Reform". The Lerdo Law (named after the finance minister, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada) decrees the forced sale of all Church real estate. New Constitution which abolishes all corporate property ownership, and therefore applies also to communal lands of Indian villages. Violent resistance from Indian communities leads to retreat on implementing new constitutional provisions in this context after four months, but attack on Church property continues. Miguel Lerdo resigns in January 1857 in an attempt to allow a compromise to be reached with the Holy See, but conservative opposition mounts, leading to:
1858-1861. The "War of the Reform". A military coup leads to installation of General Zuloaga as President in January 1858. Benito Juárez, the liberal leader, was released from military custody by order of the outgoing constitutional President Comonfort, declares himself constitutional President and forms a separate government controlling much of the country outside the old colonial metropolitan region of Central Mexico. Whilst Zuloaga revokes the Ley Lerdo, Juárez's rival government adds further clauses to it in 1859, abolishing all Church mortgages on private property: this enabled the Liberals to attract greater support from the landowning dominant class.
1861-1867. In 1861, the Conservative Government in Mexico City collapsed, and Juárez won a sweeping electoral victory. But faced with an empty treasury, he began to nationalize Church property and refused to pay foreign creditors of the Zuloaga regime. This provoked the French Intervention, which ended with execution of the Emperor Maximilian at Querétaro in 1867. A European orientated towards "modernization" of the national state and a European style of relationship between government and the ruling class, Maximilian had tried to impose a more progressive tax system and enacted legislation abolishing debt-peonage, company stores, child labour and corporal punishment of peones acasillados. This encouraged the landowners to defect to Juárez again, and the Conservatives lost their remaining support by supporting foreign intervention. This period sees a growth of "nationalist" sentiment of a kind, and Juárez becomes a popular hero, though there is substantial rural mobilization against attempts to implement the reform laws in Indian communities which had not participated in the earlier phase of Insurgency. One example is the Chalco revolt of 1868.
3. The Porfiriato: 1876-1910
Benito Juárez died in 1872. In 1876, Porfirio Díaz, a liberal general, like Juárez a native of Oaxaca, revolted against the government of Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, brother of the former finance minister, after being thwarted in his ambition to succeed Juárez, whom he had challenged for the leadership in 1871. Díaz issued the Plan de Tuxtepec, a manifesto in which he called for effective democracy and municipal autonomy. He implied that he favored federalism, and he also implied that he was sympathetic to peasant struggles against landed elites. But he proved a centralizer and it was his stronger state that pushed forward with disentailment of communal land. There were a number of important new rural uprisings in the 1870s. The Yaqui Indians in Sonora rose again in 1875, under the leader José Maria Leyva (Cajeme), who had fought with the liberals against his own people in 1868 and turned against them, exploiting the opportunities created by factional divisions among the Sonoran liberal elite. The Yaqui fought on after Cajeme's execution in 1887, until Díaz resolved the Yaqui question for the time being by organizing mass deportations to Yucatan. There were also uprisings in the Mexquital, Sierra Gorda and Tepic regions, all of which had been active in the Insurgency, but there were now movements in many new areas, and the numbers increased in the 1880s, reflecting the growing impact of privatization of communal lands. Although the Porfirian state succeeded in pacifying the countryside through its more effective repressive apparatus, much of the contours of agrarian revolt in the Mexican revolution were shaped during this period. Diáz left office officially between 1880 and 1884, when the presidency was occupied by his ally Manuel González, but he returned to power through successive reelections thereafter. The main changes brought about by the Porfiriato were (a) a stronger state and social pacification (b) compromise with the Church and (c) a genuine respite from the long agrarian recession which followed Independence, based on the construction of railways, investment in infrastructure and the development of the export economy, though this rural development was achieved at massive social cost. The flaws in the Porfirian political system were its nature as "caudillo politics writ large": despite the fiscal, social control and adminstrative advances made by his regime, Díaz failed to create a permanent institutional framework for centralized power.
4. Background to the 1910 Revolution
Porfirio Díaz succeeded in strengthening centralized state power. He built up the federal army, and enhanced the state's ability to collect taxes. Local communities which hadn't seen any manifestation of state power for decades now had to contend with recruiting sergeants and federal tax collectors. There was, therefore, a modernization and development of a central bureaucracic and administrative apparatus under the regime and a degree of modernization of systems of social power through internal pacification and the extension of modern "surveillance" techniques of social control. But the weakness of the Porfirian state lay in the fact that its structure was held together by Díaz's personal patronage system, and kinship relations among the Porfirian elite. Government had a tendency to remain arbitrary, as far as lower-class people were concerned, and had little real "penetration" of the daily social lives of the masses. Most of the latter remained rural and subject to the dominance of local power holders who controlled the local judiciary and enjoyed the back-up of federal troops in the face of popular discontents but were largely untrammeled by national legislation in the exercise of power over those subordinated to them. "The government" seemed distant and alien to most people: popular identification with the larger nation and its institutions remained weak.
There were other grave latent political contradictions in the Porfirian "solution" to the problem of national state-building. Díaz failed to give any real thought as to how to replace his personal power and integrative function with institutions which would endure after he was gone: he simply refused to go, and he also refused to allow other elements of the Porfirian elite to steer his regime towards a more institutionalized and constitutional system. The Porfirian political system therefore created conditions for political crisis of the kind which could lead to social revolutionary crisis.
Political crisis opened the floodgates to popular uprising focussed on (a) agrarian issues and (b) resistance to the encroachment of central state power (tax gatherers and army recruiting officers) and the arbitrary government of the jefes políticos (political chiefs) who were the agents of Porfirian administrative centralization.
5. Run-up to political revolution
1900. The Church became more confident because of Díaz's conciliatory policy and in this year the Bishop of San Luis Potosí declared the Reform Laws a "dead letter", provoking a revival of Liberal anti-clericalism, which turned towards opposition to Díaz's reelection. Suppression of Liberal Clubs by the regime provoked a shift to the left under anarchist influence. The new, radicalized anarcho-syndicalist Partido Liberal Mexicano, founded in 1905, adopted an insurrectionary stance under the leadership of the Flores Magón brothers, but lost broad support in consequence: it had only a limited influence on the revolutionary process from exile in the US.
1908. Díaz gives an interview to the American journalist James Creelman in which he states that "Mexico now has a middle class" and "it is time for a change". But he proceeds to instigate a reelection campaign almost immediately afterwards.
1909. Opposition is encouraged sufficiently to lead to the formation of the Partido Democrático (January), sponsoring nomination of General Bernado Reyes ¾ a loyal, authoritarian and Bismarckian Porfirian ¾ as vice-presidential candidate (against Díaz's own, unpopular choice). Reyistas win broad support in provinces, but Reyes himself vacillates, fails to declare his hand, and is eliminated by Díaz. In May, the wealthy northern liberal landowner, Francisco Madero, had founded an "Anti-Reelectionist Center" and weekly newspaper, and after Reyes's removal, Madero became the principal opposition, inheriting the support of the Reyistas, though the core of his support lay with the northern middle class and artisan and industrial working class groups.
6. Madero's revolt, the beginnings of social revolution, and counter-revolution
1910. In April, Madero holds an Anti-Reelectionist Convention in Mexico City, with police harassment of his supporters already beginning, and agrees to contest the Presidency rather than Vice-Presidency. Is himself arrested and charged with fomenting rebellion on June 16th. After the announcement of the (fraudulent) election result, Madero jumps bail, leaves for the USA, and calls for an armed uprising on 20th November (The Plan of San Luis Potosí).
1911. Díaz resigns and leaves for the USA (May). Emiliano Zapata's movement in the state of Morelos publishes the Plan de Ayala, denouncing the Maderista revolution as inadequate and calling for a sweeping programme of land reform (28th November), though the document also invokes the popular, folk "Liberal" tradition (Benito Juárez) and stops well short of the general expropriation of landlord property: indemnification is offered to those whose assets are expropriated.
1913. Madero's assassination and counter-revolution of General Huerta (President from February 1913 to July 1914). The northern caudillos Carranza and Obregón ("The Constitutionalists") organize armed opposition to Huerta in the Northern states, and ally with the forces of Pancho Villa.
7. 19141915. "The War of the Winners"
October 1914: The victorious Constitutionalists are unable to reach agreement on social programmes with the Villistas and Zapatistas at the Convention of Aguascalientes. Villa and Zapata mount armed resistance to Carranza, who withdraws from Mexico City to Veracruz. December: forces of Zapata and Villa enter Mexico City: Eulalio Gutiérrez (ex-mine foreman) made president. January 1915: Gutiérrez opens secret negotiations with Carrancistas, Villa orders his execution and conspirators flee Mexico City. February: Obregón signs agreement with the Casa del Obrero Mundial (the anarcho-syndicalist trade union organization representing most of Mexico's still largely artisan working class). April-June: Villa defeated in large-scale battles at Celaya and León by Obregón's numerically inferior forces after Zapata has withdrawn to Morelos, and returns to guerilla warfare.
8. The formation of the Post-revolutionary State
1916. Convention of Querétaro (November) establishes agreements among the revolutionary caudillos leading to:
1917. Promulgation of a new Constitution, which includes the basic provisions for agrarian reform (Article 27). Carranza elected President.
April 1919. Emiliano Zapata assassinated in an ambush. After his death, the Morelos movement negotiated an alliance with Obregón, now beginning a challenge for power against Carranza. Obregón's own principal power base lies in the urban working class, but he is also more attentive to the agrarian movement than Carranza.
1920. Obregón elected President after the assassination of Carranza. Start of the "Sonoran Dynasty".
1924. Plutarco Elías Calles becomes President.
1926-1929. Power struggle between Calles, now styled the "Jefe Máximo" of the Revolution, and Obregón: Obregón re-elected President in 1928, but immediately assassinated. Calles founds the PNR (first prototype of the current official party, the PRI, Partido Revolucionario Institucional). The frontal assault on the power of the Church undertaken by Calles provoked the Cristero Rebellion or Cristiada, a popular uprising which comes close to defeating the government.
1934-37. Lázaro Cárdenas elected President with support of Calles, but breaks with him and expels him from the country after his election. Proceeds to major agrarian reform programme, expropriating major agro-industrial enterprises. New strategy of agricultural modernization based on the ejidos (see below). But there is another side to Cardenismo. Cárdenas tried to demobilize the grass-roots popular (agrarian and workers') movements in different regions by incorporating them into centralized, state-controlled national organizations, the National Peasants' Confederation (CNC) and Workers' Confederation of Mexico (CTM) respectively. This represented a cooptation of previously more autonomous movements by the regime, and the official party's monopoly on power has been based on this politics of cooptation and control ever since (supplemented in times of crisis by overt repression and electoral fraud).
1938. Cárdenas founds the PRM to replace the PNR; nationalizes foreign oil companies.
1940. Cárdenas backs "moderate" successor (from army), Avila Camacho, instead of his long-time friend and associate and fellow Michoacano, the radical Francisco Múgica (agrarian radical) or Lombardo Toledano (a labour leader with socialist orientation). Avila Camacho succeeded by Miguel Alemán, who accelerates the shift away from Cardenista agrarian policies (Alemán's policy is sometimes called a "counter reform").
As this page can be accessed from a variety of sources, use your browser 'back' button to return to the section from which you accessed it.